Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blessed are the Poor (Luke 6:20)

And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20 NASB)

The Message version has an interesting paraphrase of this verse:
"You are blessed when you have lost it all.  God's kingdom is there for the finding."

The Greek word translated here as "poor" is ptōchos and is, perhaps, better translated as destitute and reduced to begging. That doesn't seem like a blessed situation in our affluent society, but, according to Jesus, it is.  How can that be? When we have lost all the "stuff" that distracts us, it is easier to get our eyes on God, from whom all blessings flow. When it becomes obvious to us that we are powerless to solve our problems or meet our own needs, we are more likely to turn to a Higher Power and request help from the Almighty. Any situation that drives us to Jesus is, in fact, a blessing. 

What if we are not financially poverty-stricken? Where is our blessing? The blessing of poverty of spirit is still available when our focus is on eternal rather than temporal things. When we see our position and possessions as gifts from God and not as evidence of our own greatness, we move closer to poverty of spirit. When we hold our "things" with open hands that allow God to do with our finances and possessions as He wills, without limits, we have moved into the blessing zone. 

Poverty of spirit, however, requires that we also see others in a different light. Not everyone who finds themselves in the condition of reduced means is there because of laziness, irresponsibility, or poor choices. Many who are poor have great spiritual wealth. We would do well to see them and their situation through the eyes of Christ and to BE the hands and feet of Jesus in helping to meet their needs. 

Today, pray for the poverty of spirit, despite our circumstances, that drives us and our loved ones to seek the Kingdom of God. Pray, too, for a willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. 
Here's the link to last night's Bahamian blog:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bahamian Blogging # 6: Sister Zina and the Blood Song

At FBC Nassau, the schedule was set and recorded in the worship booklet. When two of the C-Force musicians were invited to play for the special music time, I wondered if Sister Zina would be unhappy that she was "bumped" by the appearance of professional musicians. I had assumed her selection would be shifted to another week, but I'm so glad it wasn't.

Sister Zina Robins was an incredible singer who sang what I still think of as a "blood song", but was in fact an old Andre Crouch song, "The Blood Will Never Lose it's Power."  She added a bit to the song, and one of the phrases she added was, "The blood that covers me, the blood that covers my children, will never lose it's power."  I glanced at my son sitting next to me, and started to cry. The blood that covers that wonderful young man, the one human I love more than any other, can be trusted. It will never lose it's power to cleanse or to save.

When Ryan was a little boy, we used to sing the old hymn "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus". I'd sing, "What can wash away my sin?" and Ryan would sing, "Nothing but the blood of Jesus!" "What can make me whole again?" He would sing his reply, "Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"

Sister Zina reminded me of those sweet days, but her powerful delivery did more than that. It reminded me once again of the faithful, never failing power of the Blood of the Lamb. 

As we continue through this Lenten season, keep the power of the Blood in the forefront of your mind. Never forget that it is by His blood we are cleansed, by His stripes we are healed. That blood will never, never ever, lose its power. 

Plugged in to the Divine (Luke 6:19)

And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (Luke 6:19 KJV)

This power-packed verse tells us something wonderful. There was a reason everyone wanted to touch Jesus, to be "fastened" to Him.  It was obvious to them that virtue (manifested as healing power) was emanating from Him and they wanted to directly connect to it. In a sense, their touching was a kind of spiritual "plug-in" to the divine power of Jesus. 

A truly amazing thing happened next. They were all healed. Every single one of them was healed. Some were healed of unclean spirits, some were healed of a variety of diseases, and some were healed of those frightful maladies we never want to admit to having, like bitterness and unforgiveness. Whatever their need, they wanted His help with it, and Jesus provided exactly what they needed. 


Isn't that a beautiful word?  No matter your problems, and no matter your need, Jesus can intervene in your situation and in the lives of your loved ones to bring healing and wholeness. The healing of the multitude came only after they reached out to fasten themselves to Jesus. Do you want to be healed? Reach out to Jesus and allow Him to demonstrate His power and virtue in your life. 

Pray today that we and our loved ones would have a desire to connect to Jesus and allow Him to bring healing in whatever way is needed. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stuck Like Glue (Luke 6:19)

And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (Luke 6:19 KJV)

The whole multitude. It might be helpful to remember who was included in the multitude:
The new apostles
A crowd of disciples
A throng of people including:
Those who wanted to hear
Those who needed healing
Those who needed exorcism of unclean spirits. 

It was not just a big crowd of people.  This was an enormous amount of need. Everyone in the crowd that day (even the hearers) wanted to touch Jesus. The Greek word here is haptomai and means more than just a casual touch. It means to "stick like glue" or to be fastened. 

We might understand the disciples wanting to touch Jesus, but even those with unclean spirits wanted to touch Him. Those spirits that plagued them were not able to overcome their desire to fasten themselves to Christ. 

The question we must answer is how strong is our desire to touch Jesus and adhere ourselves to Him?  Can those around us recognize our "fastening"? How strong is our connection to our Lord?

Today pray that our greatest desire, as well as that of our loved ones, will be to fasten ourselves to Jesus and live as those who are adhered to Him.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bahamamian Blogging #5: the theme

Most of the churches I have attended here in the US have a printed worship program that is handed out at the entrance to the sanctuary. First Baptist Church of Freeport, Grand Bahamas was no different. They offered a 12-page booklet that was chocked full of information and encouragement. (It was also full of writing inspiration, and you can expect to hear more about it!)

The front page had the usual contact information, date, pastor's name, and photo, as well as a hearty welcome. There were two things, however, that seemed a little different in a bold and challenging way. The first might be called the "mission statement" but it was a description of the kind of Church FBC Freeport hopes to be. It would be a good mission statement for our own lives as well. The booklet read "A church where the Gospel is not prostituted, the Faith is not compromised, nor integrity pawned in the store of convenience." Whether anyone likes it or not, whether it is easy or not, convenient or not, they plan to do things God's way. 

The next section on that worship booklet made me smile, because it is so very God-like. In Scripture, when God pronounced a judgement, he always left a window for mercy. The "no compromise" statement is a bold stand to which adherence cannot help but be hard. It was quickly followed by a verse filled with such grace and mercy that I wanted to shout at the wisdom of the pairing. 

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified." (Isaiah 61:3 KJV)

Early in his ministry, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61 and proclaimed it as fulfilled. This verse is a part of that section. It's beautiful, isn't it? It's filled with promises and purpose for those who mourn. Our Lord offers a wonderful exchange plan:

Our ashes for His beauty
Our mourning for His joy
Our spirit of heaviness for His garment of praise

That's a great deal right there, but there's more! The exchange plan has a two fold purpose. When we give Him our ashes, mourning, and spirit of heaviness, He not only gives us His beauty, joy, and praise, He also gives us roots so that we can be called trees of righteousness, anchored in  The Lord. The result of all of this giving to us is that He will be glorified. 

There will be times of grief and mourning, whether because of a death or a calamity, in all our lives. The good news is that the sadness and sorrow are not the endpoint of our mourning. Becoming an oak of righteousness and glorifying God is the endpoint for which we should aim, and, it appears, it's the aim of this sweet island church. 

No compromise and glorifying God. It's an "island lesson" we all need to learn. May we and our loved ones embrace this truth in a way that leaves no doubt where we stand or whose we are. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bahamas blogging #4: Pregnant with Music

Ryan and I had the wonderful opportunity  to visit with one of the classes at College of the Bahamas yesterday. We had a marvelous time getting to know the students. I was enraptured by these funny, talented, joyful young people and encouraged them to share their music with us. Gifted performers, they were enthusiastic about the chance.

One of the girls laughed and commented about a fellow student, "He's pregnant with music. He's gonna pop it out in a minute."  We all had a big laugh, but that comment has stayed in my mind. Pregnant with music. It conjures up images of the seeds of music being placed inside, nurtured until it grows to fruition, and emerging as a living thing, part of them yet somehow with a life of its own. 

What emerged from those students yesterday was, indeed, an incredible birth of song that spanned two very different cultures and touched my heart. I can still see their faces as they sang. They were breathtakingly beautiful as they reveled in the gift inside of them. 

I wept. 

I loved them all.  

Being pregnant with music was a lovely sight to observe, but I'm wondering today about being pregnant with the Spirit, not as the Virgin Mary, but as believers with the love of God filling our hearts. 

Oh, what a difference we could make in this world if we allowed the Spirit of God to develop and grow in our hearts like a kind of pregnancy, spilling out the love of God to those around us! Now that would be beautiful, indeed! 

The verses that comes to mind today are from Paul's letter to the Ephesians:

" filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;" (Ephesians 5:18-20 NASB)

My prayer for you today is that you would be so filled with the Spirit that it becomes a kind of pregnant filling, infusing every fiber of your being, and emerging from you to touch the lives of those around you with the love and hope of Christ. 

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Bahama Blogging #3:The legend

The man is a rock and roll legend. It's apparent from the albums he has engineered and produced. He may not be a household name in my neck of the woods (Northeast Mississippi), but in the world of musicians, he is. You need to know that from the beginning of my tale. 

It happened like this... 
I'm not one for vacations. I like what I do. I like everything I do, so it rarely ever feels like work. If you never actually "work", why do you need a vacation?  This seemed like the time, though, so I booked my reservations. No one was more surprised than me. 

I announced at the Board of Aldermen meeting that I was going to the Bahamas with Ryan for spring break, and again there was considerable surprise. Afterwards, Jan (our city clerk), asked about the trip. I explained that my cousin is a music professor at the College of the Bahamas and she and two other professors were doing a concert. "No way!" she said. "I had a cousin who was a musician in the Bahamas.  She had cancer and died, but she and her husband were both musicians there."  I had visions of a reggae band. Silly me!  She told me her cousin's first name, but that meant nothing to me. 

Over the next few days, my cousin and I corresponded. She talked about her album and the upcoming concert. Her fellow professors and their producer would all be there. As she told me about each person, I thought, "How odd! This producer's wife who died has the same name as Jan's cousin!" Yes. In one of those very crazy divine orchestrations masquerading as a coincidence, they were one and the same. 

Jan told me about him. She had met him once. "He's the nicest, kindest man.  He took great care of my cousin when she was sick."  Somehow, Jan's description didn't seem to fit my idea of a rock and roll record producer. Like any internet-savvy writer, I turned to Google. Yep. Legend and Icon. Here's what's really unexpected. Jan didn't know. Her cousin was married to this amazingly talented and successful man, yet her family saw only his kindness. What a wonderful recommendation!

I was leery when my cousin emailed to say that she and her buddies were picking us up at the airport. When they pulled up, Mr. Legend was driving. I was shocked. You may well imagine what I expected, but immediately it was apparent that my expectations were totally off the mark. Hugs were exchanged all around and I began to see the most humble, kind man I've ever known. There was no errand too menial for him to run. There was no help he was unwilling to offer. I, who love music but am no performer, was treated as one of the crowd. Now, you might expect that treatment, since I was the family of a performer, but he treated everyone we saw in exactly the same way. 

Every time I've spoken with him, the word that comes to mind is HUMILITY. He might be shocked, but the other word that comes to mind is MOSES. How crazy that sounds, I know, but Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth. This overwhelming humility makes me want to be just like him. I want that extreme kindness born of true humility that I see in him. It has driven me to Scripture, and I've found a few verses that speak to this humility in a way I never could. 

He leads the humble in justice, And He teaches the humble His way. (Psalms 25:9 NASB)

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11 NASB)

When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2 NASB)

Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4 NASB)

I have been in the presence of greatness, and it has nothing at all to do with rock and roll, engineering, or record producing. This greatness is born of God and planted deep in the heart of a man I may never see again. I'm stunned by the appearance of this untiring humility. I didn't know it looked like this. I want it for myself. Scripture makes it clear that you can choose humility. I must. You must. We must. We could change the world if we saw it through these humble eyes. When we finally do, we will. 

Teach us, Lord Jesus. Plant it deep in our hearts. Let humility take root and blossom in us and in our loved ones in such an extravagant bouquet that all who see will recognize Your humility in us. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bahamian Blogging #2: The Pastoral Prayer

We island-hopped yesterday, traveling from Nassau to Freeport. Today, we church-hopped. To clarify right off the bat, we were "hopping" with musicians who were guests at two different churches during the same service, so we traveled between them. I thought it might not be much like worship to swap around in the midst of the service, but the blessings were somehow magnified exponentially. 

At the First Baptist Church of Freeport, meeting in a lovely older (but beautifully cared for) structure, we arrived just in time for the pastoral prayer. Never have I wanted a voice recorder more! Never have I taken notes during a prayer before! 

There were three things the pastor prayed that resounded in my heart. I hope they mean as much to you.

1) "Almighty God, we ask you to come and see about us today." 

It's a beautiful term, isn't it? "Come and see about us" invites our Lord for a personal, intimate visit with us and offers no barriers to His inspection. What a wonderful cleansing His seeing about us can bring!  Come and see about us, indeed, Lord, and respond to what you see in us!

2) "Thank you for protecting us from dangers seen and unseen." 

How often we grumble about the trouble that comes our way, yet how seldom we consider that which does not come our way. One day, perhaps, we will see all that we were spared. For now, however, be assured that what we experience in life, be it sorrow or trouble or danger, is not all that we could encounter. Indeed, Lord, we do thank you for all you have spared us!

3) "Your love penetrates all the obstacles that stand between us and You."

As the words were spoken, I envisioned an industrial laser boring a hole through solid rock to reach a core of uncharted fear and confusion with its powerful light. It is, without a doubt, a penetrating Love-Light  that goes to our core, removes all the obstacles to grace, and floods our souls with light and love. In the presence of such love, all fear and all confusion are vanquished and we are brought face to face with the Lover of our Soul. 

Come, Lord of Love, and penetrate all those obstacles that keep us from You.  Come and set us free with your Love.  

Bahamian Blogging #1: Learning to follow

My cousin and her friends picked us up from the airport and announced we were taking a field trip. It had been a short night followed by a much longer day already. What I wanted most was to sit still a bit under a palm tree with a book. How silly! It turned out to be a wonderful field trip!

Our first stop was the health food store. Frankly, I was surprised. A trip to the health food store was not what I expected on this trip to the Bahamas, but what it turned out to be a blessing in disguise! One of my new-found friends bought vegan fudge bars and handed them out. What better way to start an island vacation than with ice cream? I began to relax. Maybe this field trip business wasn't so bad after all!

The store was just like those at home except for one thing. Neatly stacked on the check out counter were scraps of paper with carefully printed words of wisdom. I was intrigued and wanted all of them, but asked the lady behind the counter if I could have just one. She smiled broadly and assured me that I could. It was obviously her plan all along. The one that caught my eye said:

"You must always remember that to lead, one must first learn to follow, and you must obey the rules and regulations by which your conduct is to be governed."

Knowing the rules and following them is the reason behind why we study Scripture, but, of course, you already know that. It's the first part that caught my eye. To be a leader, you must be a follower. Correction, to be a good leader, you must first be a good follower. The trick in following is knowing who to follow, isn't it?  

There are plenty of verses about following Jesus. The first that comes to mind directs us to take up our cross and follow Him, but the one that draws me to follow is this one:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; (John 10:27 NASB)

Following the Shepherd whose voice I know sounds like the sweetest kind of following of all. On this beautiful Sunday morning in this island paradise, I am pausing to consider the quality of my following.  If I must lead, and it seems unavoidable, then my following must be of the highest quality. 

Today, join me in evaluating your own following and pray that we, and our loved ones, would not only follow our Shepherd's voice but keep close to the One on whose tender care we depend.